Why Gmail’s contact manager is so bad

I have long had the opinion that Google is like Microsoft when it comes to user interface. Steve Jobs famously said, “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste.” I’d say it’s really a question of priorities. To Jobs and to Apple, taste is every bit as important a part of a product’s value as function. Both equal in importance, both critical components in any successful product.

When Google was readying the release of Gmail, they had a long laundry list of features to add and, apparently, a contact manager was low on the list. Here’s a Twitter back-and-forth with Google design lead Kevin Fox:

Ryan Sarver: can someone who used to work at Gmail finally explain to me why Gmail contacts are so bad? Contacts/identity feel so important to G strategy

Kevin Fox: Blame me. While readying for launch, contacts was last on the long to-do list. Though improved, it’s been sidelined ever since.

Ryan Sarver: I have added you to my personal blacklist :) any idea why they don’t see it as key to identity and graph? Such an underutilized asset

Kevin Fox: Honestly I think it’s lost in the chasm between ‘products-not-features’ and a master social strategic plan. A real loss.

The fact that Google released the product this way is one thing. The fact that such an important corporate interface and asset has been allowed to languish is, to me, inexcusable.



  • Moeskido

    Institutionalized thinking.

  • BC2009

    I am as big an Apple fan as they come, but I must say that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

    Managing contacts on a Mac allows me to: - Create groups - Place contacts in groups - Remove contacts from groups - Create smart groups - Email entire groups of contacts - Filter contacts by group

    On iOS…. - I cannot create groups (smart or otherwise) - I cannot add contacts to a group - I cannot remove contacts from a group - I cannot email an entire group of contacts - I CAN filter contacts by group

    On iCloud.com…. - I cannot create groups (smart or otherwise) - I cannot add contacts to a group - I cannot remove contacts from a group - I CAN email an entire group of contacts - I CAN filter contacts by group

    The only way to create and manage groups of contacts with Apple’s address book is if you buy a Mac. And the only way to email a group of contacts is from a desktop machine because you CAN’T access iCloud.com email from an iOS device.

    Contact management on iOS and iCloud is a joke and Apple has ignored for many releases and actually made it worse over time (there used to be a where to select multiple contact groups for filtering on iOS, but since iOS 6 it is one-at-a-time).

    With all that, I would say that anybody satisfied with Apple’s contact management should be perfectly happy with Google’s contact management. They both suck.

    • Sigivald

      That’s nice.

      On the other hand, I can’t remember ever wanting to do that and thinking “man, I wish I could do that”.

      I DO recall wondering what someone’s damned email address was, in gmail, and not being able to figure out without searching my history and getting lucky on a previous mail.

      (Does iOS suck for grouping and group emailing?

      Yes.

      Is that part of its core functionality as a mobile OS?

      No.

      Is contact management much more central to gmail, as a mail service – and worse, one that Google tries to get businesses to use, in competition with hosted Exchange or dedicated SMTP/IMAP systems?

      Yes.)

      • Meaux

        Mail isn’t a core function for smartphones/tablets? Could have fooled me.

  • JohnDoey

    The reason the contact manager is bad is that it doesn’t affect Google’s bottom line. People don’t use Gmail because of its elegance or its features. They use it because it is free.

  • Scott Falkner

    The fact that such an important corporate interface and asset has been allowed to languish is, to me, inexcusable.

    How to spot someone who doesn’t use Illustrator.

  • Makako

    Expect any improvements to require a G+ upgrade.

  • Sigivald

    Gmail has a contact manager?

    It’s so bad I’ve never even noticed it as a “contact manager”.